Friday, October 31, 2008

The Theology of Monsters

I was asked to lead a devotional at work for today. Since I work for a Christian camp, and since today is Halloween I decided to base the devotional on a lecture I once heard Dave Petersen of Blaster the Rocketman give. The original lecture was given at Cornerstone 2008, and focused on the theology of monsters as it pertains to the Christian faith. The following is the adaptation I prepared for this morning devotional.

The Theology of Monsters

In Christian literature (The Bible) we see reference to many monsters, as well as implied monsters. How are we supposed to interpret passages which mention strange creatures with the faces of many animals, bodies covered in eyes, or multiple heads and horns?

I. Monster as Something Overwhelming That Man Cannot Control
Many of the references in the Old Testament of physical monsters are used in refence of something that man cannot control. Two of the most often cited are the Leviathan and the Behemoth of Job. God uses both of these animals to show Job how insignificant he is.
some examples:

Isaiah 27:1
Sea Monsters
Lam 4:3(KJV)
Malachi 1:3
Isaiah 13:2
Jer 8:17
11:8, 14:29, 59:5

II. Monster as a way God Represents Himself
Rev 4:6 starts a description of strange creatures in the heavenly realm. These creatures should be linked with Isaiah's seraphim (Is. 6:3) and Ezekiel's cherubim (Ez 1:5-25,10:1-22) Some of the characteristics of these beasts are:

in the midst of fire
protruding lightning
many wings
look like humans, but with animal faces
hoofed feet
human hands under wings
covered in eyes, front and back

Why would God choose to have such horrifying creatures be the ones to share his presence?

The creatures suggest the qualities of God
Eyes suggest exceeding knowledge
Lion-royal power


Flying Eagle-swiftness of action

III. Monstrous Diabolic
Man in his natural state may also be seen as a monster. He is like a werewolf who has no control over himself. His wicked, monstrous qualities always win. Man, by himself, always succumbs to his innermost evil desires, rejecting his creator, and perverting his creation. In this way we could see man like Frankenstein's monster. He is not the great philanthropist we would expect him to be, rather he hates his master, and even plots to kill him.

IV. Monstrous Sublime or Monstrous Exemplar
Jesus Christ, God himself, is our monstrous exemplar. He has some of the classic monstrous qualities, yet not in the diabolic, evil way we usually characterize them. He is all powerful, and rose from the dead. He command his followers to eat his flesh, and drink his blood. By his blood he redeems his people, his undead bride. The word aweful can be used of God, the one demanding awe. In scripture like Isaiah 6 when man sees God himself, he is always in fear, and aware of his imperfection. God is more terrifying than we could ever imagine. This is why Lewis makes Jesus a Lion in his Narnia chronicles, continually stating "Aslan is not a tame lion."

At last I leave you with the lyrics of a Blaster The Rocketman song

Baby Unvamp (Is Making a Comeback)
She's comin' back
She's runnin' back

But somewhere along the way
She decided to play the whore
In the mud once more
Forgotten what He shed His blood for
For her

She was burnin' with a passion fire
That soon became a mire of sin
That locked her in
Inside her self
"Thou art become (O worst imprisonment!)
The Dungeon of Thyslef."
The chains chaffed
She bled until she said
Oh God, what have I become?

"Myself my sepulchre. A moving grave."
I am a slave once more
A whore cryin' at your feet
So incomplete...

Baby unvamp is making a comeback
She's starting to run back
To the Father and the Son
The only One who loves her unconditionally
With Grace and Mercy

She clings to the Cross of Death
The Cross of Life
Her only hope
The Cross of Christ

She remembers when she first met Him
She was kickin' in a pool of her own blood
Coughin' it up
When He picked her up
She gave self up
And He raised her up

Presented her to the Father without blame
Made her His bride
Gave her His name
Erased the shame
She's not the same!

All we little unvamps
Once were sluts, were whores, were tramps
But now we are the Bride
Of Jesus Christ

She's growing
She's teething
And one day she'll bite you till you're dead!
In Christ!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

King of Jews, King of Beers

Apparently some vandals in downtown Houston put some work into making a sign which depicts Jesus holding a can of Budweiser beer. (Original article here.) The Company which owns the sign does not know who pasted the new sign on their billboard. Whoever it was put some time into this thing.

Before I get and e-flogging for posting this sign, let me divulge. I absolutely believe that Jesus is fully God, and that God is holy and should be revered. I do not think even the vandals are trying to mock the historical Jesus of Nazareth. I think they are poking fun at Americans queer obsession with a over-white, hippy Jesus, but are terrified of religion. Then again they may have just been drinking a few beers when someone read a Budweiser can and realized the similarity of "King of Beers" to "King of Jews."

Honestly I see nothing wrong with the theological implications of the sign, other than the aforementioned flippant use of Jesus Christ as a pop culture figure. Jesus holding a beer can does not bother me, there's no more alcohol content in beer than in wine, and most are not bothered by this picture which has Jesus at a table with wine.
Not to get too seeker-sensitive on you, but from a marketing perspective maybe its not too bad to see Jesus as a guy with which you could have a cold one. Though I'd like to believe Jesus would have had better taste in beer, perhaps Killians or Guiness. Of course then the joke would be lost.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Christian Yellow Pages?

Todays blog is from post I read at and concerns the use of using only "Christian" resources. This is a trend that has taken a foothold in Evangelical circles in America, and is very pervasive. The defenders of this idea not only want to listen to "Christian" music, but they want to watch only Christian movies, and eat at Christian restaurants, and read Christian books, and have their overflowing toilets fixed by Christian plumbers. I used to argue with youth pastors who wanted me to burn my Guns 'n Roses albums by saying "Would you only go to a Christian butcher?" But now it seems they listened to me, as you can find these Christian Yellow Pages at many churches. I cannot fathom why the church would try yo get their congregants to quit associating others in the area, and become seclusionists, having no affect on the outside world. I guess they are not truly evangelicals then.

The fact is "Christian" is not an adjective you can add to a word. There is not Christian music or Christian dating site. I encourage Christians to make music. Please. In fact the church could use more artists. But what we do not need is more separation from the world we live in. We are told to be in the world, and not of the world. That does not mean to live with our eyes shut pretending the world does not exist. Its funny that the same people that lament how immoral Hollywood or Washington have become are often the same who told Christians to leave those venues, thus leaving the impact the were having on those venues.

I encourage you to read a secular book, listen to a secular band, and please use a secular plumber. You may find that you are living in a bubble and have lost touch with the culture you live in. You may learn a new skill, or find you like Sufjan Stephens. Its possible you'll find you prefer Monet over Kinkade. You may even befriend the plumber who comes to your house, and have a non-Christian friend.

Seth, the author of the blog that inspired this post, finished his post well. He said
I just wish that Christians would use more logic in their decision making and less emotional ones. Remember, just because something or someone has an Ichthus in their logo, on their CD cover or on their book flap, doesn't make them good or Christian, it just makes us the sucker of good advertising.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Fundamentalists, Evangelicals, and Liberals

I previously wrote a blog about my concerns with a topic in Vintage Jesus by Mark Driscoll and Gary Breshears. Today I would like to focus on another topic in the book which I enjoyed. On page 82 Driscoll states
"Without being overly critical, I do believe that most Christians and Christian traditions have a propensity to under emphasize one aspect of Jesus' ministry, which can have very tragic effects. Personally, I have an easy time understanding the priestly role of Jesus for the victims of sin, but I can sometimes be overly harsh with a sinner. When someone sins, I more easily see them needing Jesus as prophet rather than priest, which is not always the case. Sometimes, as Paul says, it is the kindness of God that brings about our repentance. Practically this means that I am prone toward fundamentalism."

Driscoll goes on to lay out the following


Obviously if we neglect any of the three ways Jesus revealed himself we are in error and will not have a orthodox view of Jesus Christ. Driscoll also states
"Jesus came to the Earth to reveal himself to us as our prophet who speaks to us, priest who walks with us, and king who rules over us. ...For the three offices of Jesus to be the greatest benefit to us, we must humbly ask God to reveal to us which aspect of Jesus' ministry we are most likely to or even ignore an read scripture with a humble heart seek to see Jesus in the fullness of his glory."

In chapter Six, Driscoll goes on to explain another difference between Fundamentalists and Liberals, where the error is an overemphasis on either the resurrection or crucifixion of Jesus.

"Sadly, there are those who err in emphasizing either the crucifixion or the resurrection of Jesus at the expense of the other. Some preach only the cross and its result of forgiveness of sin and justification. Without preaching the resurrection of Jesus as well, Christians are prone to overlook the mission of Jesus and the new life he has for them on earth. They tend to see Christian life as little more than going to church to soak in teaching until they get to heaven. This is the perennial error of Christian fundamentalism.

Conversely, there are others who preach only the new kingdom life that Jesus offers through his resurrection. These Christians excel at helping the poor and handing out hugs and muffins, but fail at repentance of personal sin and calling others to repent of personal sin so that they might be forgiven and reconciled to God through Jesus. This is the perennial error of Christian Liberalism."

Those two paragraphs were the best thing I got from the book. As someone who grew up in a conservative, fundamentalist Baptist church and went to a Southern Baptist Bible College I spent the majority of my life overlooking the importance of the new life here on earth offered by Jesus. The last few years however I've been learning about sharing in the new life we have here on earth, reading Shane Claiborne and trying to live in community with other believers. My transition has not been easy, and I've been mocked by fundamentalist. I must strive to see Jesus as my priest, prophet and king and I must value his crucifixion and resurrection.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Church Sign Theology Thursday #3

I found this church sign from It is a particularly bad sign that focuses on religion and works.

The first problem with the sign is it assumes that Heaven and church are all about religion. Reading this sign would cause me to think religion and going to church will be what will get me into Heaven. Jesus upset the religious leaders of his day by insisting that religion could not save them. When the rich man came to Jesus he was sure he would go to heaven because he had followed the ten commandments his whole life. Jesus however stated that alone was not enough.

The second problem is nowhere does the sign mention that Heaven can only come through the blood of Jesus Christ. What if I have a religion that causes me to go to church, yet does not teach the redemptive power of Christ (Jehovah's Witness, Latter Day Saints, Islam, Scientology, etc.) Religion without Jesus Christ means nothing, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." John 14:6

I also don't like the sign because it makes church seem to be required for salvation. We have a Sunday service to bring a local body of believers to joyfully celebrate our risen Lord, to take part in the sacraments, to hear the preaching of the word of God, and to be encouraged by other believer's. Church attendance is not a get out of Hell free card nor a way to earn brownie points in the kingdom of God. This pervasive theology of ekklesia is what causes many to loathe church, yes even many Christians.

Monday, October 20, 2008

So You Say You Want Change?

Possibly one of the best panhandling signs I've seen.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

"Christian" Pediatrician Turns Away Sick Child

In Bakersfield, California Pediatrician, Dr. Gary Merrill, turned away Tasha Childress and her daughter because of Childress' tattoos. Merrill sights his belief as a Christian as his reasoning for doing so.

from KGET via healthbolt

The doctor said he is just following his beliefs, creating a Christian atmosphere for his patients.

Tasha Childress said it’s discrimination.

She said Dr. Gary Merrill wouldn’t treat her daughter for an ear infection because Tasha, the mother, has tattoos.

The writing is on the wall—literally: “This is a private office. Appearance and behavior standards apply.”

For Dr. Gary Merrill of Christian Medical Sevices, that means no tattoos, body piercings, and a host of other requirements—all standards Merrill has set based upon his Christian faith.

“She had to go that entire night with her ear infection with no medicine because he has his policy,” Tasha Childress said.

Merrill won’t speak on camera, but said based on his values and beliefs, he has standards that he expects in his office.

If it is really the teachings of Christ that cause Merrill to not help children whose parents have tattoos, I would love to know where in scripture he found this practice be taught by Jesus, the GREAT physician. To refuse to treat a sick child because of the appearance of her mother is sickening. Did not Jesus give his own life for those he called "sons of the devil"? Merrill has every right as an American to refuse service, it is his private practice. However if he wants to be a bigot, and doing so endanger the health of young children, I wish he do so not under the guise of Christianity.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Did Jesus Go To Hell?

I've recently been reading Vintage Jesus by Mark Driscoll and Gary Breshears. I agree with many things in the book, but there was one stance with which I am concerned. On page 122-123 Breshears discusses whether Jesus went to Hell. He makes reference that much of this doctrine is a misunderstanding of the Apostles' Creed. But then he uses Luke 16:19-31 to say Jesus believed there were
"two places (divided by a great chasm) where people would go when they died. These were holding places until Heaven and Hell were opened for eternal occupancy. One was a place of joy for believers called 'Abraham's side, ' also called 'paradise' by Jesus on the cross. The other holding place was hades or the place of torment for unbelievers. Ephesians 4:8-10 says that after his death, Jesus went into that place of holding for believers called paradise for three days and then upon his ascension into Heaven he took Christians with him. Today, paradise is in Heaven and when we die we go to Heaven, for as Paul says, 'to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.'"

The theological problems with this assessment are astounding. Not only is he in error about what Jesus did after dying, the way he comes to his conclusion is questionable exegesis to say the least.

1. Improper Interpretation of a Parable.
The first thing to grab my attention was the passage Breshears uses to base his idea off of is a parable. Lets take a look at the text:
19"There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. 22The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, 23and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. 24And he called out, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.' 25But Abraham said, 'Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. 26And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.' 27And he said, 'Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— 28for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.' 29But Abraham said, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.' 30And he said, 'No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.' 31He said to him, 'If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.'"

We can not use a parable to derive our eschatology. The parable exists to share a spiritual truth, not to describe holding cells for those waiting to got to Heaven or Hell.
Ephesians 4:8-10
It has been shown exegetically that this idea of the “lower parts of the earth” is not Hell, but rather an appositional genitive referring to the earth as the “lower parts” in relationship to heaven. The NIV translates this as "the lower, earthly regions." This translation refers to Jesus' coming to the earth as a baby, the incarnation. Grudem states "This NIV rendering is again preferable in this context because Paul is saying that the Christ who went up to heaven (in his ascension) is the same one who earlier came down from heaven (v.10). That "descent" from heaven occurred when Christ came to be born as a man. So the verse speaks of the incarnation, not of a descent into Hell." John Piper also states "This probably means that he descended to the earth, which is the lower parts. The 'of' there doesn't mean that he is going under the earth. So I don't think that text warrants the interpretation that he descended into hell."
Other Thoughts
There was never any need for holding cells. All people that are saved, do so through the blood of Christ. Old Testament Jews were saved by faith in the coming Messiah, much like we are save by faith in the messiah who has come. There is no Biblical evidence to view paradise as something other than Heaven. Piper says "
In fact, he said to the thief on the cross,
"'Today you will be with me in paradise.' That's the only clue we have as to what Jesus was doing between death and resurrection. He said, 'Today—this Friday afternoon, after we're both dead—you and I will be in paradise together.' I don't think the thief went to hell and that hell is called paradise. I think he went to heaven and that Jesus was there with him."

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Church Sign Theology #2

EDIT: Well apparently I can't hotlink from the original picture, and can no longer get to the original, but the sign said "Look Busy, Jesus is Coming" If I find it again I will repost.

This sign is a blatant showing of legalism. The sign would cause us to believe as long as we look busy, God will be fooled. One can only assume looking "busy" refers to works, for why would Jesus want us to be busy. This is a classic guilt trip church sign; you know the kind that make you think you're doing something wrong and if you would just change that behavior and go to church then God would be happy. The other reason is it appears to insinuate that God can be fooled. We know that God is omniscient and omnipresent, so there is never any reason to "look" something rather than just being something, for God knows your heart and motives.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

How Manly Men Can Fight Poverty

Today I was reading one of my favorite blogs, The Art of Manliness, which had an article written as a part of Blog Action Day, an annual nonprofit event that aims to unite the world’s bloggers, podcasters and videocasters, in posting about the same issue on the same day. This years issue is poverty.

This is an excerpt from the blog:

How to Kick Poverty’s Ass

How can we as men help kick poverty’s ass? Here are a few suggestions.

1. Become a mentor. You don’t need to go halfway across the world to fight poverty. Opportunities exist right in your backyard. Become a mentor to a disadvantaged young person in your community. Young people are stuck in a cycle of poverty. Their parents are poor, and thus often don’t know how to motivate their kids to seek higher education and a better life for themselves. And the kids then follow their parents’ example, have their own kids, and raise them the same way. By becoming someone’s mentor, you can step in and break that cycle. You can provide the guidance and counsel that they may not get at home or from their friends. You can help them develop the skills that will enable them to become self-sufficient. Keep in mind that being a mentor is a long term commitment. Expect to be in it to win it for months or even years. The investment will be well worth it for the person and for you. Check out Big Brothers or your local community center. Or look for a way to volunteer in your area’s schools.

2. Offer a free class to impoverished people. It’s not the politically correct thing to say, but it is oftentimes the lifestyle of impoverished people that keeps them poor. In many cases, they lack basic life skills that we often take for granted. Things like showing up to appointments on time, basic grooming, and interpersonal skills might be lost on them. Most communities and states have agencies that teach people these skills. Many are hurting for teachers. Make a call and volunteer some time.

3. Donate a suit. The other day, I heard on the radio about an organization that collects gently used suits for impoverished men to wear at a job interview. I think that’s a damn good idea. Check out Dress For Success and see how you can donate your old suit to help a fellow man.

4. Join Americorps. Have you recently graduated from college and find yourself drifting, unsure of what you want to do next? Consider joining Americorps. Americorps is one of the best kept secrets in the country. Americorps is like a domestic Peace Corps in which men and women dedicate themselves to a year of full-time service (although there are some part-time opportunities as well). Americorps is an umbrella for thousands of different programs, from those that tutor elementary students to those that work with the elderly. After the very me-centered time of college, Americorps will give you a chance to completely dedicate yourself to improving the lives of other people.

5. Join an international relief organization. If you’re wanting to help battle poverty on an international level, join up with an international relief organization. You’ll have the chance to get on the ground and help people directly. You could be involved with classes that teach water purification, sanitation, and farming. Or you could instruct people on how to run a business. Stuff that will help individuals become self sufficient and on the road to beating poverty. Many churches have international relief programs. If you’re not a church person, check out Peace Corps or UNICEF.

6. Donate to a micro loan. Studies have shown that just giving countries money doesn’t do anything to alleviate poverty. The money gets lost through graft and the inefficiency of bureaucracies. Why not put the money directly in the hands of the people you’re trying to help so they can help themselves? Micro loans do just that. Your $50 or $100 loan can help some man in Africa start their own business. You’ll be giving the help a person needs to become self-sufficient.

I'm glad to see Art of Manliness addressing the issue of poverty. So often men see helping others as sissy, but what could be more manly than helping others develop a sense of pride for themselves by being freed from the chains of poverty. I encourage all men to take a stand and find how you can help your neighbors and those around the world. Be sure to check out Blog Action Day to see how others are fighting poverty, and join in the fight.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Our Witness is a Great NOT

Yesterday I covered the first part of a sermon by John Piper. Today I will finish the second half of the sermon.

Our Witness is a Great Not
Piper's second point is that we are NOT the focus of the Gospel. Even though God chose us as the way to spread his gospel, we are not central to it.

"In fact, John the Gospel writer is so bent on making sure that we feel the not of John’s testimony that he piles on the negatives in verses 19-20: 'And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed . . .' Did not deny what? He did not deny, 'I am not the Christ.' He affirmed I am not the Christ. And thus denied that he was the Christ. Do you see why I think we are onto something here? You only write like this when you are trying to make a point.

But he is not done making his point. Verse 21: 'And they asked him, ‘What then? Are you Elijah?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ ‘Are you the Prophet?’ And he answered, ‘No.’' Of course he was Elijah in one sense. He had come 'in the spirit and power of Elijah' (Luke 1:17), but he was not the actual physical Elijah who had gone into heaven in the chariot of fire without dying.

He is still not done. Verses 26-27: 'John answered them, ‘I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.”

John seems to choose a negative way of showing that he was not the Christ and Piper picks up on this. Rather than deny that he was the Christ, John affirmed that he was not the Christ. Rather than proclaiming who he is, John seems to sit back and let the others guess, then diverts the attention away from himself. John is an excellent example of Christian humility. So many pastors and televangelists must always have the spotlight shining on them, John refuses the spot light, becoming less so Jesus may be more.

“He Must Increase; I Must Decrease”
Later John comes back to this idea of making less of himself.
"You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, “I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.” The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease."

Piper states:
"This is the great not of our witness. We must decrease; he must increase. We must make much of him; we must not make much of ourselves. So it was with Paul: 'I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So he who plants and he who waters are not anything, but only God who gives the growth”'(1 Corinthians 3:6-7). 'What we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord'(2 Corinthians 4:5)."

"What then is John? He is John the Witness. The necessary witness who is not the Christ. How does he describe himself? Verses 22-23: 'So they said to him, ‘Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?’ He said, 'I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’' I am simply a voice.

A voice, a witness. And in his mouth are not self-exalting words, but Christ-exalting words. John 1:15: 'He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.' John 1:34: 'I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.' John 1:29: 'Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.'”

How much we all could learn from John, such humility. We must die to ourselves, and turn the attention away from ourselves. Christ uses the foolish of this world, so he may prove that it is none of our doing. I'll leave you with Piper's ending, because I could not better articulate his point.

"Here’s the lesson for us. We must be his witnesses. It is a great necessity. Faith comes by hearing a witness. But we must not make much of ourselves. Beware of the witness that needs attention for himself. Beware of the preacher who constantly angles to put himself in a good light and returns again and again to his ministry and his achievements. Beware of the preacher’s subtle preoccupation with himself even when he speaks of his own flaws. Beware of your own bent to love the praise of men.

Remember, therefore, that from the very beginning of John’s Gospel, there is a human witness to the light—our witness. Our witness is a great necessity. And our witness is a great not. He must increase; we must decrease. Amen."

Monday, October 13, 2008

Our Witness Is A Great Necessity

This weekend I had the pleasure of listening to John Piper preach at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, MN. Piper preached an excellent sermon from John 1 6:36. The sermon, titled John Was Not the Light, But a Witness to the Light, had two main focuses: Our witness is a great necessity, and our witness is a great Not. Today I will focus on the first part of the sermon.

Our Witness Is A Great Necessity
Piper states
"John was a man, that is, a human. This is important because up till now the Word, Jesus Christ, has been called God the Creator of all things. In him was life, and that light was the light of men. So it looks as if the way this Word and Life and Light are going to spread through the world is by its own sovereign power and brightness. But John knows that is not the case. This Word and Life and Light are going to spread through the witness of human beings—and no other way." Piper goes on to explain that saying a human witness was needed does not mean that it was necessary for God to use a human, but rather shows when God wants to use a witness, he sends a witness. We are reminded of John 20:21 "As the Father has sent me, I am sending you."

Piper continues that we serve a God who saves and sends. He says
" We serve a saving and sending God. He provides the foundation of our salvation in Jesus Christ, and he provides the means of our salvation in those whom he sends. Let this have an enlivening effect on you. God is at work now—today—moving his witnesses through the world, making them the means of his saving work. I hope this makes you want to look Jesus square in the face and say with Isaiah, 'Here am I! Send me'"
In Verse 7 John mentions “. . . that all might believe through him.” This is the first mention of believing in John's Gospel. It occurs 97 more times.

Piper ends the point on the necessity of the human witness.
"Our witness is a great necessity. Without a witness no one believes. Verse 7: “He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him.” Through him. Through his witness. That’s how necessary it is. Believing only happens through a witness."

Friday, October 10, 2008

Join or DIE!

I wonder how many people's mental image of "church" looks something like this, a large force which tries to destroy anything it doesn't like. This picture is taken from MAKE: magazine some of the comments on the page were:

"Spreading the word through force and/or fear. Business as usual."

"Take that, you Darwinists!!!"

"That tank needs to be in a Monty Python movie . . .

And Saint Attila raised the hand grenade up on high, saying, "O Lord, bless this Thy hand grenade that with it Thou mayest blow Thine enemies to tiny bits, in Thy mercy." And the Lord did grin and the people did feast upon the lambs and sloths and carp and anchovies and orangutans and breakfast cereals, and fruit bats and large chu... [At this point, the friar is urged by Brother Maynard to "skip a bit, brother"]

... And the Lord spake, saying, "First shalt thou take out the Holy Pin, then shalt thou count to three, no more, no less. Three shall be the number thou shalt count, and the number of the counting shall be three. Four shalt thou not count, neither count thou two, excepting that thou then proceed to three. Five is right out. Once the number three, being the third number, be reached, then lobbest thou thy Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch towards thy foe, who being naughty in my sight, shall snuff it." Amen."

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Church Sign Theology Thursday

So I've decided to start a new posting on Thursdays titled "Church Sign Theology Thursdays" I will take a picture of a random church sign and discuss the theological implications of the sign.

In honor of my recent move to Wisconsin todays sign comes from Waupun, WI.
I must admit this one is a bit humorous. It could be a temporary play on the classic verse Hebrews 13:5 "...for he has said, 'I will never leave you nor forsake you.'" Honestly I can't even rip this one because it makes me laugh so much. (For those how don't get the joke, Brett Favre joined the NY Jets shortly after "retiring" from the Green Bay Packers, where he played for 17 seasons. Lets just say those in WI are still upset.)

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Importance of Discipleship and Evangelism

For my last post on Carson's sermon about trends in the church I focus on His 5th point

5. There is a trend in our churches to emphasize discipleship over the gospel.

Carson emphasized teaching the whole council of God centering on Christ crucified as the power of the gospel and salvation. If we see the gospel as what "saves" us and if we see discipleship as the actual place where real transformation takes place, it is not a biblical approach. Carson said this trend has a tendency to lead us to see discipleship as legalism; as what pleases God.

We must take the more correct Biblical approach and see evangelism and discipleship as a lifelong process. For years the SBC had the opposite negative approach, lets get as many prayers and baptisms as possible so we have a large membership, but lets forget about them after that. In response many churches have pushed the other way, with discipleship classes, new Christian classes, small groups, accountability groups, etc. What we must do is focus on evangelism, by sharing the love of Christ with our neighbors, and continually helping them grow in their relationship with Christ, while continually loving and serving others.

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Trends You May Not Know About

3. The most dangerous trends in any age are the trends that most people do not see.

"Orthodoxy is always focused on the past but the new expressions of evangelicalism are the most dangerous. Carson recalled the once Christian colleges like Princeton and Yale that were led by pastor/theologians but became so big that they hired administrators who were not as discerning of current trends; only of past. A formally orthodox leader will head into trouble if he is not astute toward current trends in evangelicalism.

Carson made the case that 1920's liberalism is no longer the issue-even though some churches are still fighting that shadow. Today's issues like justification, inerrancy, primacy of family, gender roles, sexuality, pornography, modesty, race relations (very few race-integrated churches), tolerance, consumerism and human flourishing are the current issues at hand.

I think most church planters are men who grew tired of fighting for bygone issues in their churches while people are losing the wars against the current issues of today. In my opinion, mainline churches will continue to lose their best men who want to be warriors in a real war, not in the reenactments of the religious wars of the last forty years. As long as we continue to address these modernist battles, Satan and his demonic force will rule the ground in our churches with diversion tactics that consume our energy."

The problem laid out here is known by most any church goer under the age of 40. Many young men are leaving churches and denominations because they refuse to address the issues of today. So many churches are caught trying to fight battles that lost significance decades ago, that they don't see the issues that are most affecting their young congregants. I don't need a church that is trying to get prayer back in school and evolution out. I need a church that will help me learn how to be a man, give me a place to serve, and will answer questions about the Christian's role in the environment, and how I should be helping the poor. I want to be in a church where I can be a part of making a difference in the issues that affect me and my neighbors. Those churches that refuse to see the trends right under their nose because they are focused on issues of the past will become churches of the past.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Evangelical fragments move into clumps

2. Current evangelical fragments are moving into a new phase -- into polarized "clumps."

Don said evangelicals are identifying themselves in clump-like expressions of evangelicalism (Health/Wealth clump, Openness clump, Arminian clump, etc.). Carson said the National Pastor's Conference (NPC) is as inclusive as possible -- some speakers are stellar while others are simply heretical -- but they include as many unique tribal representatives as possible. "Even Reformed circles are clumping," said Carson, "and the center is emptying out in favor of vague, dilute evangelicalism."

Carson astutely said that old-time gospel would be around until Jesus comes while he believes (as Don humorously put it, "not as a prophet or the son of a prophet, but one who works for a non-profit") that in 25 years nobody will be calling themselves "emergent" but many will still be centralized in the gospel.

I wonder what will replace the center as the varied subcultures of evangelicalism move to the fringes. For orthodox confessionalists, the center is the perfect place for the gospel. We need pastors who call their people "back" to the inner city of the gospel without relenting to the flight to the suburbs of dilute evangelicalism, as Carson put it.

The main problem I see Don making reference to is the continual division among the church. Many evangelical groups are continually becoming more exclusive, working to drive those out of their groups that are not their identical counterparts. One example of this was the MBC's decision to pull funding from all church plants associated with Acts 29. Rather than working church planters to further the gospel, the MBC decided their extra-biblical view on alcohol consumption would not permit them to work with those who feel alcohol can be consumed in moderation. I am not saying we should become all inclusive, allowing any heretical group to join with us. We should however strive to keep the gospel center, and let secondary issues be dealt with by individual churches. We also, in order to prevent a " vague, dilute evangelicalism", need to focus on theology. It is very important for the pastor to empower his congregation by preaching the word and focusing on biblical theology.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

More on Carson's church trends

In my last post I made reference to a blog about a sermon by D.A. Carson concerning five current trends in churches. I previously covered trend 4, but would like to return to this sermon and cover the other trends. Carson's first mentioned trend is the observation of contradictory trends.

1. It is important to observe contradictory trends.

"Interestingly, Don encouraged us to recognize the good things in our current culture. He said we have a lot more good commentaries available to us than we did fifty years ago. Yet, mainline churches have fewer conversions than ever before. This is a contradictory trend, according to Carson.

I understand this to mean that we know more and have access to more information, but it is not resulting in more conversions. We apparently know more about God, but less about His mission to seek and to save those who are lost. Our mainline churches are focusing on the minutia difference between supralapsarianism and infralapsarianism, for example, but are ignoring the call to both know God and to follow his sending us to our neighbor's house. There should be a constant tension between group Bible studies and sharing of one's faith. Otherwise we end up in a holy huddle somewhere arguing about non-essentials."

This trend is wide spread, not only in the church, but also in our culture.
We have the world at our fingertips, and can find the answer to most any question in minutes, yet we as a culture are getting dumber. While this is a cultural problem, it still rests on the shoulders of the church to create an environment where we understand the world and follow it as well. When I was in college my Biblical Interpretation would often remind us that the Hebrew word for knowledge, yada, not only meant to understand, but also to do. If you knew to do something, but did not do it, you did not really yada it. We must reemphasize this idea in the church, not to be legalistic, but to show that knowledge and action must be connected for there to be true understanding.

The second problem is the push for Christians to live completely segregated lives. This is not the model shown in scripture, but something that has made a resurgence lately. Jesus lived and dwelt among the sinners, tax collectors and lepers. Many large churches try to provide a resort where the Christian has his own coffee shop, book store, gym and a plethora of other social grounds that would cause the Christian to have to be around unbelievers otherwise. I'm surprised we haven't seen them open up their own grocery stores and beauty salons. (If you know of a church that has done this please let me know.) We should relish the chance to brush shoulders with our neighbors in these arenas. What a great way for us to build relationships and minister to those around us. We are called to be in the world, but not of the world, not create our own world completely devoid of anyone that is unlike us. These Churches are not evangelical, but are more like country clubs, where only the elite (or elect) can play.

I am challenged in both areas. As a Christian college grad student, I love to study scripture, form criticism, theology church history, etc. Yet I continually struggle to apply what I've learned to my life. Also as an employee at a Christian camp, it is very easy to never leave and be a part of a Christian community bubble.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Acts of mercy and the Gospel of Jesus: The Inseparable Couplet

Scott Thomas, director of Acts29 Network, recently blogged about a sermon delivered by D. A. Carson, Professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Friday September 26 at Bethlehem Baptist Church. The article mentions 5 trends in the church today. I would like to eventually cover all 5 trends, but today I would like to focus on number 4:

There is a trend in our churches to be consumed by social concern.
"In the most intriguing point of his talk, Don said that the Gospel plus caring for the poor was an inseparable couplet. He cautioned that if the gospel was merely assumed (and not clearly articulated), our passion for social justice would overshadow the gospel. While we are not intentionally exalting social concern over the gospel, people learn what we are excited about (gospel over caring for the poor). Carson warned, "Our passion must first be the gospel and not assume it to be understood." He continued, "We must be careful to keep the gospel central and not turn our responses to the gospel as the main target."

Furthermore, Carson exhorted these Christian leaders to spend our time on prayer and the ministry of the Word and allow our people to begin and maintain efforts in social concern. He said we must distinguish between what the church as church must do and what the community of believers in the church must do (I did not personally see the difference but it seemed to suggest that the pastor was exempt from exemplifying an outpouring of the gospel into the community through social efforts).

Our calling, Carson said is to do good in the city (Jer. 29), because the person has an eternal destiny and we care for them. We are all poor beggars telling other poor beggars where they can find bread. Don concluded this section by warning us not to make the issues of gospel and social concern antithetical."

I love the first sentence, "the Gospel plus caring for the poor was an inseparable couplet." It is so encouraging to think of the Gospel and caring for the poor as "inseparable couplet." The two can NEVER be separated. When we preach the Gospel, it must always be lived out, with the love of Christ touching the hurting around us. How greatly would the worlds view of Christianity be changed of the Gospel was always accompanied with the caring of the poor?

The quote about beggars telling other beggars reminded me of Jim Henderson's book a.k.a. LOST. Henderson states
"We realized that calling people who are outside the faith 'the lost' sets up an us/them dichotomy, artificially separating 'the found' from those who are hopeless in their 'lostness.' It also conveys a class system, setting up the assumed superiority of 'the found' in contrast to the sad plight of 'the lost.'Rather than one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread, the idea of 'reaching the lost' sets up an unnecessary and unhelpful obstacle."

We should remember that we need to continually preach the Gospel, and that its preaching should always be accompanied with Christian mercy.